It was an interesting process describing the Féhéwi rings in my books, because they were an important inspiration in my design. Their casting process was also very influencial for me to explore and to learn from. Surprisingly, there was a lot of information in other books, which were largely congruent and identical. No wonder, its purpose is also a very exciting story.
But, and that was the dilemma, finding an authentic ring was the problem. There were loads of beautiful rings that looked amazing at first sight. Their design was just beyond. Impressive in size, loads of decorations and details, and all kind of lost wax techniques imaginable. But all these rings were absolutely unbearable, and most of them more phantasy than authentic. They were overloaded and truly a pain on your hand, when trying them on (I always try on tribal objects, especially the masks to see if they fit, as one sign of authenticity. If they don't fit or are uncomfortable, I leave it).
Right before my deadline of my second book my friend Souleymane Arachi came from Napié, south of Korhogo, and found a ring for me. I will tell you honestly, I didn't like it. I was disappointed. The ring is misshappen and quirky. And it shows neither elegance nor aesthetics, what you know from other rings. But it was worn, and probably not just by one owner.
Before I get into the history and background of these rings, I would first like to name the indications why the ring can be described as authentic: As a jewelry designer I can see, when metal like bronze is darkened with chemicals, like Noirit. I use that lye to darken the metal on my creations to get a vintage look. This ring has darkened naturally by age. It is not antique, not from before 1945. But the ring was also not recently made in the last 20 years. Second indicator is the patching on one of the horns, that obviously broke. It is not soldered, it is casted, which makes that reparation even more interesting. I persume the wax prototype broke and it got fixed with wax before casted. And finally the third indicator, and that one you can simply not fake, is the abrasion and the polish inside the ring itself. And also very impressive, that the owner changed. The ring received a knotted binding for the new and smaller size. It looks like a woollen yarn was used, which felted over the time.
The Féhéwi rings always show an ox head. These rings are worn by a group of Gbato-Senufo (natural) healers, the Nokârigâh. But these rings are also documented in neighboring groups around Korhogo having the same name. It is worn on the middle finger as an official identification mark and as a confession to this group. The Nokârigâh are men who have the gift of transforming themselves into an ox in a ceremony. The Féhéwi ring is held by the wearer with his teeth and then sees from the point of view of the animal. Back in his human consciousness, he now knows how to outwit the animal for his benefit (Glänzend wie Gold, Till Förster, pages 201 - 202. Afrika Begegnung, Artur Elmer, page 85).
The Féhéwi is also known and described as the "silent ring" or "ring of silence". However, I could not find a clear explanation for that. Only that the wearer cannot speak when holding the ring in his mouth, obviously. And that a Nokârigâh is bound to silence and that his affiliation to this covenant is secret. However, the fact that these rings are worn officially and visibly by everyone speaks against it.
Senufo Féhéwi ring. Collected by Souleymane Arachi in Napié, south of Korhogo.
7,5 x 6,5 x 3,5 cm, bronze.
- Wenn Neuordnung Ordnung schafft, Markus Ehrhard, page 88 - 89.
Content and images by Markus Ehrhard